ELKINS, W.Va. – Randolph County and the city of Elkins are now among the growing number of West Virginia communities offering a barn quilt trail.
Elkins Main Street initiated the project in May and the first 8-by-8-foot block was erected on the YMCA building Thursday. A traditional Appalachian quilt pattern, the Maple Leaf, will add color and atmosphere to downtown Elkins, noted Sid Gillispie, YMCA director.
“We chose the Maple Leaf pattern to go with our Forest Festival activities at the Y,” Gillispie said. “Overall, the quilt block adds cheer and color to the city and we hope to inspire other businesses to buy into the program, adding even more color to the town.”
During the annual Forest Festival celebration, the Elkins YMCA houses the quilt show and the forestry and photography exhibits.
“Five to six thousand people walk through these YMCA doors during Festival week,” added Gillispie. “We want to make it easy for people to find the Y and this quilt block will be invaluable in locating our building.”
A barn quilt is a large piece of wood, usually measuring 8-by-8 feet, that is painted to look like a quilt block. The first quilt trail originated in Adams County, Ohio, but was inspired by Donna Sue Groves, a West Virginia native from Roane County.
In honor of her mother, a fifth-generation quilter, Groves promised to paint a quilt square on her barn. A field representative for the Ohio Arts Council, Groves realized a series of painted quilt square barns might attract visitors to the county and stimulate the local economy. The first square was unveiled in 2001 and the Groves farm became part of 20 barn quilts that formed a driving trail throughout Adams County.
Since 2001, quilt trails have spread across 43 states in the continental United States (including West Virginia), and across the border to Canada into three Canadian provinces.
In the Potomac Highlands, Pocahontas County and Hampshire County took the lead in creating quilt trails. Karen Carper, Elkins Main Street executive director, said the Pocahontas Trail was the inspiration to begin the Elkins quilt block project.
“Our Heritage Quilt Trail project will celebrate local traditions and add beautiful color and interest to the downtown streetscape,” said Carper. “The project supports our strategy to develop downtown Elkins as an arts and tourism destination.”
The quilt patterns chosen for the Elkins project coincide with local history and Appalachian culture. Both the Maple Leaf and Log Cabin on the YMCA building are traditional Appalachian quilting patterns.
Quilt barn projects are homegrown and created through a grass roots process shared by the entire community.
“There are so many positives connected to this project,” said Jolynn Powers, AmeriCorps volunteer for Elkins Main Street and the co-ordinator of the project. “Twenty-five community volunteers and six AmeriCorps volunteers will have, by project end, put in nearly 400 hours of work on four quilt blocks. This project has brought together community members from Youth Build, who constructed and helped paint the blocks, and members from Generation Randolph, Mountain Arts District and Elkins Main Street, who all participated in the painting.”
Carper said two more eight-foot square blocks will be completed this summer, and with the erection of the first two blocks, hopes are high that businesses with larger buildings will step up to the plate and sponsor the remaining two.
“We have been very pleased that the YMCA has purchased the first two signs and we have had plenty of help and support from the community,” Carper added. “This project has the makings of a long-term investment in making downtown Elkins a tourism destination.”
The creation of the downtown Elkins barn quilt trail could not come at a better time, officials said.
Jane Bostic, marketing specialist with the West Virginia Division of Tourism, said plans are underway to develop an organized state-wide West Virginia barn quilt trail. Aside from photographing the artworks on barns and other buildings, visitors can enjoy the scenery and stop in shops where locals can share information about the area and its history. A guide has been compiled to show where barn quilts are located within the state.
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